Newspaper under the microscope

Chico State’s student-run weekly is unpopular with many on campus

Larry Pinto was unhappy with The Orion’s coverage of Greek affairs, so he started an online forum to discuss the paper’s perceived shortfalls. So far, the group has more than 900 members.

Larry Pinto was unhappy with The Orion’s coverage of Greek affairs, so he started an online forum to discuss the paper’s perceived shortfalls. So far, the group has more than 900 members.

Photo By dustin hyman

An enraged Larry Pinto started an online forum last month bashing Chico State’s student newspaper for a series of recent articles, and the local fraternity member says that there’s talk around campus about students starting their own alternative, student-run online news source.

Organizers of the Facebook group call themselves Students Against The Orion Newspaper. They concede that the students running the paper are young, inexperienced editors and reporters, and that mistakes are bound to happen, but they also say that recent stories have pushed them to the point of action. And in this age of social networking, it didn’t take long for 920-plus members to join their cause.

Pinto acknowledges that relationships between the Greek community and the paper have long been strained, but he said that the last straw for him occurred when the paper published an article that warned students about the potential danger of electing multiple Greek candidates to student-government positions. What bothers him most is that it ran on the first day of the student-body elections last month.

The news story, written by Almendra Carpizo, drew attention to the fact that three members (and a prospective member) of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity were running for Associated Students government positions. Pinto says the article urged the student body to question, if not deny, giving the Greek candidates a vote. (Only one of the four candidates subsequently was voted into office.)

Pinto also took issue with an April 7 article that again called Greek affairs into question. The Sigma Nu fraternity set up a booth on campus to sell sombreros on César Chávez Day, with all proceeds going being donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The article’s main focus was on how “the fundraiser was offensive to some.”

Pinto acknowledges the mistake of associating Chávez (a lifelong citizen of the United States) with unrelated novelty items, but he still thinks the paper should have recognized the group for handing out informative pamphlets regarding Chávez, in addition to raising hundreds of dollars for a good cause.

“The Orion is far more concerned with reporting scandals than they are with covering the good things student organizations accomplish—the civic engagement, fundraisers and community service,” says Pinto. “Why doesn’t The Orion talk about when the students do things right?”

However, as the paper’s incoming editor-in-chief, Delaine Moore, pointed out in a recent interview, “We report on the facts. We are a newspaper—we seek news.” Moore made it clear that it is not the job of The Orion to be a conduit for public-service announcements.

Pinto noted that Greeks aren’t the only students upset with the newspaper. In fact, a large segment of those lambasting The Orion are participants in a student-organized game called Humans versus Zombies (or, HvZ). Their primary beef is with an April 14 column titled “HvZ spreads mental death,” by Anthony Siino.

Siino used derogatory terms (“chump,” “childish punks,” “miscreants,” “dumb ass”) to describe students who were involved in the role-playing game. He addressed the players directly in his article: “Are you so mentally incompetent that you’d go running through Kendall Hall like you were some coked out 5-year-old? It’s shameful and outright disgusting. … These are the people who think ‘nerd’ is a euphemism for ‘cool.’ These are the people who think it’s socially acceptable to be a reject.”

The article generated 364 comments on the paper’s website—many of them favorable, others threatening Siino with violence. Even the writer’s sister (managing editor of The Orion at the time) was verbally assaulted on the open forum. (Siino declined to be interviewed by the CN&R.)

Moore agreed to meet with Pinto, who was accompanied by another Greek affiliate, Chris Roberts. Both Moore and Pinto later acknowledged (in separate interviews) that a lack of communication was the primary cause of the turmoil. And Moore subsequently made it clear that the newspaper was willing to report more favorably on behalf of student clubs and organizations, so long as those groups provided the information needed to do so.

“Students are encouraged to write letters to the editor and to notify us of upcoming events. We accept phone calls and e-mails,” said Moore, “Our doors are always open.”

Roberts posted a synopsis of the meeting on the group’s Facebook page, and indicated that the paper’s staff members had threatened to take legal action against the group if, as some group members had discussed, it had launched a boycott of The Orion’s paid advertisers.

In a recent e-mail, Moore denied that charge. “In the meeting we discussed what the specifications are concerning libel law for both in print and online. That information was only meant to clarify what libel is so that both groups could prevent any kind of legal action from ever needing to take place,” she explained.

For his part, Pinto said his primary objective is to improve The Orion, not to destroy it. As for starting up a new online campus news source, he said some members have already coined a name for it: “Alt,” as in alternative.